Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 380 - 399)

WEDNESDAY 21 JULY 2004

MR ELLIOT MORLEY MP AND MS SHEILA MCCABE

  Q380  Paul Flynn: Were you not concerned about the methodology of the report by Entec?

  Mr Morley: The methodology is for them to decide.

  Q381  Paul Flynn: In your memorandum you said that the report came up with a very wide range of findings on the environmental impact and, of course, the most pressing one was the one that appeared in the newspapers, but there was a huge range that they put forward.

  Mr Morley: There are a number of scenarios, yes.

  Q382  Paul Flynn: We accept you are unhappy about the variation, that you cannot be more precise. Whichever figures one believes, is it not true that in the future, unless there is a dramatic improvement in the standard of building houses, there is going to be a very significant environmental cost? Would you agree with that?

  Mr Morley: I do agree with that. You could argue that the Entec Report is limited, but it does give you figures and comparisons in relation to various scenarios, in relation to growth scenarios and it also gives you figures in relation to standards as well. What it clearly demonstrates is that if you raise the building standards then you substantially reduce CO2, water consumption and there are enormous potential cost savings with that.

  Q383  Paul Flynn: If you were not unhappy, you were less than overjoyed with some of the proposals because you say the impacts are already contained in the Sustainable Communities Plan. Had you carried out any work previous to this to determine the   environmental impact of the Sustainable Communities Plan?

  Ms McCabe: As Defra, no, I do not believe we have, although my memory of this only goes back 12 months. Our agencies have been closely involved, the Environment Agency particularly on water and flood defence issues.

  Q384  Paul Flynn: The building proposed in the plan is going to going to have an environmental impact. Surely that needs to be determined and quantified.

  Ms McCabe: The Environment Agency is our prime adviser on the environmental impacts as far as water and flooding are concerned and English Nature on biodiversity and the Countryside Agency on landscape, so we look to our agencies for specific advice.

  Q385  Paul Flynn: One of the conclusions of the report is that building at higher densities, as set out in the Communities Plan, results in increased environmental costs. What is your view on that?

  Ms McCabe: It depends what you mean by environmental. Obviously from a land take point of view a higher density is a good thing, it reduces the demand on actual land take, but there may be extra costs for transport and waste and so on.

  Q386  Paul Flynn: On the CO2 emissions target of a reduction of 60% by 2050, would you acknowledge that building on the scale proposed by the Sustainable Communities Plan and Barker will have very significant impacts on your ability to meet the target of 60%?

  Ms McCabe: It also makes clear that if you build to a higher standard then it will have a beneficial effect on emissions.

  Mr Morley: There are also issues of if you are developing new communities you are also moving people away from existing communities, which can have a beneficial effect in those communities as well, so there is a net effect in all this.

  Q387  Paul Flynn: Are there many practical examples of building to this high standard successfully?

  Mr Morley: Yes. There is the Millennium development, for example, at Greenwich which is being built to the eco standards and there are also some other examples of community build to higher standards even beyond that as well.

  Q388  Paul Flynn: Would you regard them as unqualified successes?

  Mr Morley: I think that the Millennium development is regarded as a success, yes.

  Q389  Paul Flynn: What is your view on the conclusions of the Entec Report which found that development in line with Barker's highest estimate would result in an additional 20% of carbon emissions coming from the domestic sector by 2015-16 compared to 2001 levels? That is a substantial increase.

  Ms McCabe: What the Entec Report was looking at was the global figure, it did not take into account existing occupancy and it is spread over 30 years. So it is actually the worst case scenario in many instances. It does not take account of the impact that would happen anyway if building continued at its current rate. So we have to treat those figures with caution. Obviously the signal that it sends is that Government should do the best they possibly can to reduce the impact.

  Q390  Paul Flynn: You make a point about the fact that the occupants of new housing would be creating environmental impacts in their current housing as well, which is a fairly elementary point. Surely that was taken into account. Are you saying it was not? Presumably these people are not suddenly going to arrive from Mars.

  Ms McCabe: It had to be done very quickly. It would have required a lot of analysis on where these houses were, who was going to be in them, the population, demographics, which they did not have time to do. So they are giving us a broad-brush approach. We are going to refine those issues together with other departments.

  Mr Morley: Work like this has not been done before. It is very useful in relation to giving us an ability to quantify the kind of environmental effects of new build in the scenarios which have been set out within the report. I think it is helpful in terms of giving us some way of quantifying these figures for the first time. You can do this in a more sophisticated way and I am sure that that will come at a later date.

  Q391  Paul Flynn: You also mention in your memorandum the combined heat and power target of ten gigawatts by 2010 and the work that is being done to achieve this. Most other commentators think this is an unrealistic target and there is very little chance of doing this. Do you think it is realistic?

  Mr Morley: I think it is achievable. There has been a slowing in the development of combined heat and power, although the main reason for that, Chairman, has been market conditions and the price of gas more than anything else. The market conditions are changing and are probably more encouraging to investment than they were in the past. We are talking to the DTI on this issue to see how we can encourage development and investment so that we can meet our targets.

  Q392  Paul Flynn: Are you expecting to spend some money on pump priming here to ensure you meet your targets?

  Mr Morley: There is a range of inducements that are designed to give some benefit to combined heat and power. Our view is that that will provide an incentive, but we will have to keep this thing under review to see if they are achieving their desired effect.

  Q393  Paul Flynn: But you are confident that the targets are achievable?

  Mr Morley: They are achievable, yes.

  Q394  Chairman: We hear what you say about the reliability of that 20% increase in CO2 emissions from the domestic sector if Barker goes ahead. Clearly you need to satisfy yourselves as to what the likely figure will be. We heard Ms McCabe say that if you build to high standards it can be good for the environment. What is beyond dispute is if you build houses on anything like this scale it will have a  significant environmental impact. If the Government is to meet its 2050 target then surely that means that other sectors of the economy will have to take a further cut in the emissions that they are generating.

  Mr Morley: We are already addressing the issue of emissions and energy in a range of policies, not least the Energy Efficiency Strategy which is aimed at the domestic sector and the Warm Front Programme, the range of measures, the measures on industry for example, the European Emissions Trading Scheme which we are currently in the process of putting in place and there are implications for transport as well. There has to be a strategy to address all forms of emissions within society, that is true and we accept that.

  Q395  Chairman: It remains the case that the process of building these houses let alone the houses once they are occupied and used will increase CO2 emissions unless you can tell us today that you are going to build entirely zero carbon homes.

  Mr Morley: It would be nice to build all zero carbon homes. That is not the intention there, it is true.

  Q396  Chairman: So it is another bite out of the Government's ability to meet its CO2 targets.

  Mr Morley: The long-term impact of domestic CO2 is factored into the Government's long-term target because, of course, the demand for homes is well understood. We cannot have zero home building in this country, we have to recognise that there is demand and that there is growth for all sorts of reasons and we do have to address that because if we do not address that then it leads to increased problems in relation to housing supply, the impact on house prices and not least, of course, the pressures on existing communities.

  Q397  Chairman: Have you looked in this context at  the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's ideas about widespread use of biomass for the heating of domestic properties?

  Mr Morley: We have. It is something that I would very much like to see develop. The small scale biomass heat and power systems could well have a role in new developments and I think that is something we should explore. It could also have a role in large scale buildings like hospitals and schools and we are trying to encourage that and there are examples of where that has been installed. I certainly think that bio fuels, combined heat and power, district systems, do have a role in the future.

  Q398  Mrs Clark: If we look at further work, I understand that ODPM has set up a task force to look at the findings of Barker. Are you actually involved in that?

  Ms McCabe: Yes. We have met with ODPM and the Treasury and there will be a further MISC22 officials' meeting this afternoon to take that forward.

  Q399  Mrs Clark: So you are equally engaged with them?

  Ms McCabe: Yes.


 
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